Many things have changed this year: friends get married, friends have babies, friend move to another city/country/continent. But for me, things don’t change much, and that’s probably why I feel like I have been left behind.
“Who should I call?” I ask myself when staring at the contact lists on my phone. I realise that everybody around me is busy and occupied with their life. Unfortunately I might not be a part of it.
A few days ago I saw the sunset. As the sunlight receded into the distance and left me in darkness, I burst into tears, wondering if I die, how long it would take for people to discover my body. A stream of negative thoughts attacked me: my friends have moved away, have forgotten about me, or at least put me at the last of their priority lists. I can’t blame anyone; it is just a part of life that people move on with life; it is just a part of life we are occupied with new things. Yet, even when my brain understands this fact, my heart finds it hard to accept it.
In that vulnerable stage, I remember the story of prophet Ibrahim gazing at the sun setting and claiming: ‘I love not those that set‘ (The Qu’ran, Surah Al An’am). I decided to do the same thing, and it soothed my heart gradually. Instead of seeing people, bad memories and my solitude, I see myself as a tiny human who is connected to God’s majesty and mercy through prayers.
Even though there’s really nobody with me, I am not alone, because my Creator is still there.
Even though the strings I have to the world are loosened, the rope of faith is still there, and I feel the need to hold on it more tightly.
Loneliness is a medicine. It’s bitter so much that it makes me cry nonstop. But through that bitterness, I can understand my utter impotence and poverty as well as my desire to attach to something lasting and stable.
Loneliness is a test, too. It attacks you constantly: just because I feel better one time, it doesn’t mean it will disappear. It comes back to you, depresses you, isolates you and makes you want to stop trying. Thus, I always feel like I’m on borderline of depression these days. I’m struggling against the dark/negative thoughts coming from my nafs (instintual soul) and Satan who try to persuade me that I’m worthless and forgotten. I’m struggling through supplication and prayers. I want my ego and Satan to know that although they are charismatic and powerful, my base of support is God, the Most Powerful to whom everything is subjugated. And I know God is pleased when I strive against them to become better.
Being an auntie
On the chilly day of 10 July 2015, my niece, Ayah, was born. I officially became an auntie. It was such an honour and a blessing. There is nothing more joyful than holding Ayah in my laps and seeing her smile at me. There is nothing more painful than seeing Ayah in the hospital bed, tired and sick. And there is nothing more amazing than watching Ayah looking at the world around her with such excitement and curiosity. Just as her name suggests, Ayah is really a sign of God. Through her, I understand how Allah has always bestowed us with mercy and sustenance since the days we are born. He prepares us a package of food and milk from the mother’s breasts; He gradually gives us the capacity to watch, absorb information, make sense of things and learn. Watching Ayah learn to crawl and stand up makes me realise how I have taken simple actions like walking, smiling or clapping hands for granted. Oh Allah, you are indeed the Most Powerful, The Most Wise!
However, I don’t think I have fulfilled the duties of an auntie properly. What should aunties do? My parents keep telling me to help my sister, but to be honest, I do not have much free time. I’m also struggling with several things, including my jobs, ,my constant failures with the English test, my messy application for permanent residency, my thesis, my low-self esteem and depression. I do not even feel like I can look after myself or anyone, nor do I know what I should do to look after a baby.
In sum, I am a useless auntie. But I have and will always keep Ayah in my prayers. May she always be healthy, active and lovely. Ayah, you parents have so much hope in you. I have lots of hope, too.
my heart has been whispering these lines to my brain for a while. So I decide to write them down.
There are moments I feel like I have had too much. God grants me a good part-time job, a free ticket to Paris, a good place to stay, loving parents and a group of friends that cherish and treasure me. And above all, He gives me the faith that I never feel like I deserve.
Do you know the story of when prophet Moses came to meet Pharaoh and inform him of God’s message? Pharaoh was enraged and asked the magicians from all over Egypt to come and compete with Moses and his God’s power. After Moses turned his staff into a snake, the magicians prostrated and proclaimed their belief in God despite Pharaoh’s fury.
When people analyse this story, the focus is often on Moses (pbuh) and Pharaoh. Little is discussed on the magicians and the effect of prophet Moses’s message and action in transforming their heart. They are those that nobody expects to have faith; they are the symbols of a society that are engaging in practices against God’s wish, and they do not appear to be significant characters of this story
And yet, for me, these magicians are those I relate to most. Like them, I used to engage in polytheistic practices that God dislikes. Like them, I was not somebody who ‘naturally’ has the qualities of a believing person. In contrast, I was spoiled, selfish, and wasteful and My teenage years were filled with stress, anger and angst, and at one point I saw the world with a nihilistic stance.
Yet, Allah is so merciful that He showed me Islam and granted me this beautiful thing called faith.
Faith has transformed the way I think, the way I perceive my life and what I want to do with it. A few days ago I looked at photos of myself a few years ago and tried to remember how I was at the time.
I used to be so ambitious and career-oriented. I used to think that pursuing your dream is my everything, that I would achieve happiness by acquiring what I desire. And what did I want most? I guess it was recognition – that I was capable, that I was special, that I should be loved.
However, that desire has somehow gone. I have accepted that I am ordinary, weak and limited in many senses. But as opposed to feeling miserable because of this, I am actually happy, as I understand that God does not need me to be the most successful and most prosperous human being on earth. What He wants to see is how I use the faculties that He gives me to worship Him and improve myself.
Thus, I no longer have that ambitious long-term goal of being successful. Rather, everyday I wake up and think about what I can do today, this week and this month so that I can become a better servant of God.
They can be ‘worldly’ projects like trying to make a short film about Islam/Muslims, getting involved in projects to help other Muslims, or completing my thesis on textbooks’ representation of Muslims in order to make some changes in the ways history of Islam is taught (hopefully).
But mainly they are small things like praying on time, making a dua consistently, trying not to waste things, helping the less fortunate, making dua for them, or simply not cursing when an obstacle hits me.
Sometimes, it can just be reflecting and saying alhamdulilah when seeing the mercies and wisdom of God manifested in the world around me.
The more I try, the more I fail, the more I see my deficiencies, the more I realise that disciplining one’s soul and holding to faith is indeed a lifetime project, as any struggle can reach a conclusion or on hold, but the struggle with your own soul will never come to an end.
I’m still faulty, impatient, emotional and selfish. I still expect too much from others to the point I’m left disappointed and unable to forgive. I still hold onto this world and have not yet tasted the pure sweetness of ‘La ilaha illallah“.
But I tried, have tried and will try. Because I really want to meet God one day and be the ones He will be pleased with. Because if He is not pleased with me, everything is meaningless.
Oh God, what have I done that you have given me so much? Thinking of the bounties you bestowed on me makes me cry like a baby. I wish I could articulate what my heart wants to say
Then the word comes to my mind. Alhamdulilah. Yes, that’s what my heart utters: Alhamdulilah.
To both Mum and Dad,
When my uncle asked me what the film (Nur) that I made and won the mokhtar award was about, I just told her that it was a film about a Muslim girl that tried to dispel the stereotypes about Muslims. But it was not really the truth. Nur was made with the intention to glorify God and share my love for God with those feeling the same.
When my dad asked me what my research thesis was about, I said it was an examination of the ways Australia history textbooks taught Asian history. It was not a lie, but at the same time it was not particularly specific. My thesis was not just about Asian history in general; it had a focus, and that was Islamic civilisation.
When somebody asked me what the mokhtar was about, I replied: “it’s a film festival in France.” Again, it’s not a lie. But it’s not the exact depiction of this festival. Mokhtar is special because it’s a festival organised by Muslims with the intention to use visual arts, especially films, to discuss Islam. It’s one of a kind and comes from the sincere love for God of a group of young people in France.
As I reflected on the way I responded to questions about what I was doing, I felt upset at myself. There was nothing wrong with what I did, but for some reasons, I made deliberate attempts to conceal the fact that what I have been doing is often related to Islam or Muslims. It was as if my passion for Islam were a shame.
Why did I respond that way? Probably because I feared that my parents and relatives, who still did not fully accept my Islamic identity, would be enraged and depressed by the topic “Islam”. Probably because I did not want people to make judgement of me – that I’m a religious extremist/fanatic. After all, loving a religion – or living for the sake of God – in a this secular age makes you sound like an idiot.
However, the truth is that my passion is really Islam and Muslims. I love reading books on Islam; I love contemplating on the teachings of prophet Muhammad (pbuh); I love exploring the long lost Muslim civilisations that I have never had the chance to study. My dream is also to make films about Islam and Muslims. As much as I want these films to be able to reach people’s heart, I want to create films because for me, that is how I consolidate and manifest what I have learned and be inspired by the Books of God, which include the Qu’ran, the Universe and prophet Muhammad (the living Qu’ran).
Yet, it’s disheartening to see myself trying to avoid sharing my passion with other people. It makes me realise how I still try to seek approval and acceptance from the world, and in doing so, I become apologetic and miserable. My religion, as a result, appears shameful, too.
It was not how prophet Muhammed talked about Islam when confronting adversities. It was also not how his Companions reacted to the unbelievers’ mockery of the Prophet and His message. Rather, regardless of whoever or whatever affronted them, they still expressed their pride in the fact that they were struggling for the sake of their faith and for God’s pleasures.
Not only their bravery touched my heart, but also their sincerity made me feel ashamed of my own self. How could I say I love God if I hesitate to express it? How could I say I love God when I treat Him and His beautiful message as something to be hidden? How could I say I love Islam when I even look down at myself?
I could make thousands of excuses about why I hesitated to tell people about my religion. But ultimately, the core reason was that I still crave for this world – the acceptance of people, the status and the security. And because of that love, i have done injustice to the most beautiful religion in the world.
In this modern world, many people laugh at the notion of “living for God’s pleasure”, while some use this notion for their ideological and political agendas. Ordinary Muslims also talk about it, even though several times it is limited to praying and attending mosques. But for me, living for God’s pleasures is the highest purpose of life and something I want to direct my heart to. Laugh at me if you’d like; call me stupid if you’d like, but I pray that I can taste that sincerity (Ikhlas)- the pure sincerity to do things for God and earn His pleasure.
For now, I know I am not sincere. My love for God is compromised by my attachment to this world although I know its transitory and fleeting nature. After all, knowing is one thing; understanding is another matter.
InshaAllah, one day, I can gain sincerity to proudly say to my parents and my friends: “I am a Muslim. I am making films and doing a thesis about Islam, because I love it. I hope you watch it and can see its beauty, too”.
Surely We have revealed to you the Book with the truth, therefore serve God, being sincere to Him in obedience. (Holy Qur’an, 39:2)
When I was a kid, I thought of paradise as a fantastical, cloudy land. It was where I could fly, swim in candies, and talk with my favorite fantasy characters like Doraemon. In short, paradise in my head was sort of like Disneyland.
Now, at the age of 22, paradise means …
I have read somewhere that this world gives us some glimpses of both Paradise and Hell. Thus, Paradise is neither white limbo nor unnatural, unfamiliar place. It’s similar to this world, only thousands or millions or billions or zillions of times better. It’s infinite and always flourishing, just like the incessant blessings and artworks God has displayed in this world.
Even belief in Paradise brings sweetness. Thanks to this belief, I want to strive and stand up again no matter how many times I’ve failed. Thanks to this belief, my heart feels a sense of solace when feeling overwhelmed and despaired by the news. And because of this belief, I know that I need forgiveness more than anything.
The existence of Paradise (as well as Hell) makes known my Creator. I find it hard to even entertain the thought that there’s a God, but there’s no hereafter, no place for God to fully manifest His names of Mercy, Justice, and Power.
When it comes to the topic of the Hereafter, Said Nursi’s explanation of it in “A summary of the Eight Topic” (The Staff of Moses) is still my most favorite. Read it online here if you’re interested
A few days ago I found a new female islamic discussion in a mosque close to my place. I was really happy. Partly because I wanted to listen and learn Islamic knowledge, but mainly because I want to find a community, somewhere to belong.
I’ve been a Muslim for four years. During these four years, I’ve wandered a lot around communities. First, I started with the Turkish Muslim community because they read the Risale-i Nur, the collection that I enjoy reading and reflecting on. It was fun at first; people welcomed and showed me a lot about the Turkish culture. I still remember that when I was 18, I was really fascinated with anything Turkish: the tea, the mosque, the baklava.. For me, it was a whole new world that I, who barely knew anything about the Islamic world, was curious to explore. However, soon that fascination died out. I still admire the Turkish culture, but ultimately it’s not what draws me to the group: I joined because I wanted to be with Muslims, because I wanted to become a part of a community that learned, worshipped and loved God. Yet, no matter what I do, I never feel being accepted as a part of the community simply because I am not Turkish. Yes, when I came to the meeting, they smiled and greeted me; they added me on Facebook. But that was all about it. When they hung out, they never thought of me. When they had a gathering, I was not informed.
Then I decided to be more active and be involved in other Islamic community. I started with my university’s islamic society by volunteering to be their media officer. Again, I knew more Muslims: Malay, Sri-Lankan, Arabic, Pakistani, Afghanistani, Syrian, Palestinian, and so forth. I came to most of the committee meetings and did all the works I was required. Yet, when I left the committee this year due to busy schedules, I also lost contact with all of them. They simply ‘removed’ me from the committee page and I didn’t hear anything from them. Only when we saw each other accidentally at university did we have a short chat, or only when they had weddings did they contact me to ask me to be their photographer for a cheap price.
Don’t get me wrong. I’m grateful that they trusted my capacity to videograph/photograph their weddings, but it hurt me when I realised that I was never in the invitation list, that in their eyes, I was no more than a person who can take photos well.
I remember that one time when I complained about the ethnic division of the Muslim communities, a friend of mine argued that it was also a revert’s responsibility to be active in the community. I held her words deeply, and thus I decided to be more active: to actually get out there and be involved with Muslims. That’s why I joined my university’s Islamic society; that’s why I looked over the Internet to look for volunteering opportunities or group discussion around my areas. I didnt want to wait; I wanted to actively seek for my community.
Yet, despite the efforts, I am still here, crying and wondering who I should contact to talk and discuss. I have become used to doing things alone: reading alone, thinking alone, listening to podcasts alone.
Probably the problem is me: my cultural difference, my taste, my social awkwardness and my timidity in social settings. Probably I haven’t tried enough; probably I’ve not been friendly enough. But what can I do?
Whatever the reason was, my tears couldn’t help pouring out. I thought of Mum and Dad, but what came to mind was their long sighs and coldness because of my embrace of Islam. I thought of my two best friends in Vietnam, who became distant because each of us had our own life that no longer crossed. Then I thought of my few close friends in Australia, who have moved away either because of marriage and job. You know, it’s not healthy to be overwhelmed by these thoughts. You come to loath yourself so so much.
In the end, the remedy to all these negative thoughts is still God. It hurts to be lonely; it hurts to witness this transient world passing by like a wind. But there is a sense of solace when you know that God is there, and that everything perishes except Him. (What would I be like if I dont have faith?)
That’s why I continue my search for a community. That’s why when I hear of a new Muslim project, a Muslim group discussion, or anything like that, my heart is filled with hope. When prophet Muhammad (pbuh) said we need communities, it demonstrates the importance of unity, brotherhood and sisterhood. Thus, I am willing to get involved again even if it means one day I might return to this state again – the lonely, confused, pessimistic state.
Photos: Maira Nguyen.
At 22, I said goodbye to my undergraduate years. Although I still study for my masters, it’s different. The biggest change is perhaps how I see myself. During my undergraduate years, I was confident. I didn’t care how others perceive me and only focused on performing my best with my assignments. However, the master of teaching crushed me as it lay bare my weak speaking skill, my awkwardness in social conversations, and my insensitivity to the workplace politics. After all, I’ve always been an introvert, who prefers keeping thoughts to herself, who struggles in an alien environment and who hardly cares what people think. Yet, suddenly I am placed in situations where I actually have to care about how I appear to other people, how I control my expression, how I act and behave. Suddenly I begin to ask myself: “Does this person like me?”; “Am I acting appropriately?”, “how can I fit in?”; “am i dumb?” The result is that I lost my confidence and began to hate myself, including my islamic identity. I became a slave of the world even without me realising it, and when I looked at my mirror asking myself who I am, I was at the state of loss. Therefore, at the age of 22, I understand why Bendiuzzaman Said Nurse said: “Know, O Friend, that we forget, and the worst kind of forgetting is forgetting one’s self.”
At 22, I said goodbye to some of my dear friends. Only when they departed did I comprehend why they were so important to me. To be honest, we are not so compatible in terms of our tastes and personalities. However, what connects us is our love for Islam. I miss those times when we read Quran, praised God, and learned Islam together. I miss those times when we shared our reflections on the universe, the Quran, and the prophets. These discussions helped us to remind ourselves in the midst of assignments, work schedules and relationships of why we embrace this beautiful religion and of why we have to be patient, sincere and compassionate. When they left, the discussion also stopped. I continued to read and study Islam myself, but still there was something missing, something that was irreplaceable. For the first time in my life, I felt thirsty of a community – or a group of Muslims learning Islam together. Thus, at the age of 22, I recognise Allah’s Mercy when He has given me so many sincere Muslim sisters to assist me throughout this journey. I also realise that nobody can be an island by him/herself, especially those follow Islam, because Islam is about collaboration and mutual assistance.
At 22, I learn to deal with solitude and free time. Being alone is not fun, and I have tried to distract myself with entertainment, social media and projects to make me avoid the ’time for myself’. However, yesterday I came to realise that i need to stop running around to avoid solitude. Most prophets at some point face solitude, and they use it effectively to reflect on God. That’s what I should do… I have always made excuses to NOT learn Arabic properly. Now it’s time to learn. I have always made excuses to NOT read the history, literature and Islamic books scattered on my bookshelves. Now it’s time to read them. It’s time to leave the world and focus on myself. It’s time to embrace solitude, struggle with the naifs and inshAllah employ it as a vehicle to reach closer to The Creator.
At 22, I know I have changed. I’m no longer the crazy, ambitious idealistic girl who were so fascinated with ideals and dreams. I have become more practical, more vulnerable and more skeptical. Things that I used to believe are no longer what I hold true. Things that I find obvious are no longer valid. I even wonder if my thoughts at the moment are ‘enlightenment’ or actually the whispers of my ego (naifs). I get used to saying “I don’t know” more often.
At 22, amid the changes, losses and several ups and downs of my faith, there is one thing I still believe firmly. That there is a God who is Omnipresent, Merciful and Compassionate. That He wants me to grow up, strengthen my Faith, do righteous deeds and remain hopeful and patient. Thus, when Islam still touches my heart, when difficulties are still present , I know that God is still giving me a chance. And for that, I want to say Alhamdulilah.
In the name of God, Most Gracious, Most Merciful
By (the Token of) Time (through the ages),
Verily Man is in loss,
Except such as have Faith, and do righteous deeds,
and (join together) in the mutual teaching of Truth,
and of Patience and Constancy.
Sura Al-Asr. The Quran. Translation by Abdullah Yusuf Ali
I just happened to bring my camera with me today. And when I saw this flower, I could not help relating to it. Yes, I am very confused now. I just keep asking myself why something like that happens, and if I am the wrong one. My ego claims no, but as usual, I don’t trust my ego much in this kind of matter, as ego usually colours your judgement (no matter how objective you want to be)
I kept asking why, and it got tiring. Now I just want to pray. Pray that everything will be fine for all of us, and that if I have made any mistake, may God forgive me.